Last week, we saw the end of an uncomfortable saga that had been playing out over the previous several months, upon Google finally releasing a stand-alone Google Maps app for iOS, after Apple decided to ditch the company as its data source for the platform’s primary Maps app with the introduction of iOS 6. The whole affair was nothing less than a very public embarrassment for Apple, and last week’s arrival of Google as the iOS mapping savior is perhaps the cherry on top of this schadenfreude sundae.
Although there were plenty of rumors in the weeks leading up to the iOS Google Maps release to prepare us for its inevitable arrival, things didn’t always seem so certain. Back when iOS 6 Maps first debuted, there was tons of gossip wondering if Google actually might come through with such an app, but it was then largely hopeful speculation. I spent some time wondering myself about how things might play out and how Google could be reacting to the situation, but even then the chances of actually seeing the Apple-OKed arrival of Google Maps felt distant, at best.
After all, Apple made a serious investment in iOS 6 Maps, not only committing to distancing itself from Google and its services, but rounding-up its own map data sources. And then, following the initial user outcry over the app’s questionable quality, Apple stood its ground. Sure, it acknowledged that there was a problem, but instead of backing all the way down and saying that it should have just stuck with the status quo, it defended its new direction for Maps, urging users to have faith that the company was working diligently on transforming it into the experience Apple intended.
Considering the power Apple has to control the iOS app ecosystem, I really wouldn’t have been surprised if it tried to throw up some roadblocks at Google’s efforts towards seeing Google Maps approved for release. Yes, that could end up as a big anti-competitive fiasco, but you’ve got to remember, a big portion of what this switch meant in the first place was Apple striving for independence from Google. If Apple wanted to, it could have inked-up a new deal with Google and repackaged the iOS 5 Maps for the new iPhone 5 screen.
That says to me that Apple sees the release of iOS Google Maps as a temporary inconvenience. If it’s staying the course with its new Maps, it must be convinced that its product is going to evolve into something more attractive than Google’s.
I’m worried that’s a dangerous position for Apple to take, because by all accounts, the iOS Google Maps isn’t just the return of old, reliable mapping, but instead goes above and beyond to deliver a simply fantastic user experience. It gets turn-by-turn navigation, and is arguably even superior to Google Maps for Android. In just the first 48 hours the app was available, iOS users downloaded it an astounding 10 million times; those are a lot of users who are going to need some serious convincing if Apple ever expects them to return to its own Maps.
And it’s not like Google Maps is suddenly going to get worse in the future, either. While its release may have – from the perspective of iOS users, anyway – helped restore faith in Apple’s platform, it’s also set the bar pretty darn high, and I just don’t know if Apple, already struggling to make Maps shine, has it in it to play catch-up and then outdo Google at what’s (let’s face it), Google’s own game.
Google Maps for iOS is a win for Google, a win for iOS users, and a big, embarrassing loss for Apple.